A recently highlighted cache of letters fleshes out the writer’s timeline
The latest cache of acclaimed writer Munshi Premchand’s letters is expected to give new insights into the writer’s political leanings and struggle.
The batch of 79 letters, collected by his biographer, the late Madan Gopal, was handed over to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) in New Delhi by his wife Kanta Gopal on July 31- Premchand’s birth anniversary. These letters and postcards dating from 1907 to 1936, the year he died, mainly consist of his correspondence with Daya Narain Nigam, Editor of Zamana, a Kanpur-based Urdu journal. These are mainly in Urdu. There are also letters to his brother Mehtab Rai, Zamana’s manager Maulvi Khwaja Abdul Salam Sahib, and writer Vishnu Prabhakar, who died in 2009.
NMML at Teen Murti House also has an earlier collection of 236 letters, given by Premchand’s son Amrit Rai in 1982. In 1962 Rai had co-edited a two-volume book on the letters called Chitthi Patri with Gopal, who passed away in 2008.
Deepa Bhatnagar is the research officer at the NMML handling Premchand’s letters. She is currently supervising the preservation the correspondence, some of which is brittle.
“Depending on the condition of each piece, they will be laminated, stored in polyester sheets and non-acidic folders. Some letters are on butter paper which has deteriorated. We expect to finish the preservation work within two months at the most, and have them in the archives. These can be accessed by bonafide scholars,” she said.
Bhatnagar explained: “These letters will help researchers in Hindi or Uttar Pradesh history or politics to know the times in which Premchand lived, the difficulties he faced when he wrote his works and how he informally interacted with people. They contain references to his experiences with people. Most of these letters are in Urdu though he is renowned as a Hindi writer.”
According to Hindi researcher Kumar Dhananjay of Jawaharlal Nehru University, “Chitthi Patri revealed how Premchand’s professional relationship with Nigam progressed into a close friendship. The letters help researchers understand Premchand’s life, which was a constant struggle in penury. These new letters may throw up news aspects of Nigam who published many of Premchand’s works.”
“Premchand had strong views on socialism and nationalism,” Bhatnagar said. “He wrote under the pen name Nawab Rai in Zamana. (His real name was Dhanpat Rai). He changed to Premchand to avoid police surveillance on him at the time. But in the letters he speaks freely. It will help scholars understand the sociology and thinking behind his writings.”
The NMML has archives of some of India’s best writers. These include Bengali poet Amiya Chakravarty, Hindi writers Bhartendu Harischandra, Prabhakar Machwe, Chandragupta Vidyalankar, Shiv Pujan Sahai, Ramchandra Shukla, mystic Purohit Swami, Punjabi playwright Rajinder Singh Bedi, Assamese writer Hem Baruah and, Malayalam poet Ulloor Parameswara Iyer. The institute is gradually digitising its collections to put them online.